BERLIN -- Helmut Kohl took his place in history as the first chancellor of a reunited Germany last night, after the first free all-German elections since 1932 swept his conservative Christian Democratic Union party to victory.
Mr. Kohl had staked his political career on an unwavering commitment to swift unification of eastern and western Germany, and last night, the beaming chancellor embraced the reward.
"This is a day of joy," said Mr. Kohl, speaking in Bonn. "This is a great result, and we may take pride in it."
According to final results, Mr. Kohl's CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, took 44 percent of the vote.
The conservative coalition partner, the liberal Free Democratic Party, won 11 percent of the vote, giving the governing coalition a comfortable 55 percent majority.
The losers in yesterday's election were Oskar Lafontaine and his Social Democratic Party, which dropped 3.5 percent from its showing in the last West German elections in 1987. The SDP took 33.5 percent of the vote yesterday, and Mr. Lafontaine made no effort last night to hide his disappointment.
"We've lost the election. There's no use denying it," Mr. Lafontaine said shortly before 9 p.m., less than three hours after the polls had closed.
Analysts attributed Mr. Lafontaine's poor showing to his reluctance after the opening of the Berlin Wall to call for German unity, which was widely seen as unpatriotic.
Throughout his campaign, he warned of the enormous social costs -- of skyrocketing unemployment, the wholesale collapse of East German industry and a growing tax burden in West Germany -- that would come from rapid unification of the once-Communist East Germany and prosperous West Germany.
He also opposed Bonn's currency union with former East Germany on a 1-to-1 exchange rate. For that, only one in four voters in eastern Germany gave him their support at the polls yesterday.
Last night, Mr. Lafontaine said history had handed Mr. Kohl the electoral advantage over the last year, but he insisted the social questions he raised during his campaign would be the decisive issues of the future. "I'm still convinced social and economic questions will dominate in the future," Mr. Lafontaine said at a round-table discussion with the other party leaders last night.
True to his maverick style, Mr. Lafontaine suggested last night that he would rather have been right than triumphant. "One should always address the issues one thinks are important and right," he said.
While Mr. Kohl's showing yesterday was strong in both eastern and western Germany, his party did not improve its percentage over 1987, when it won 44.3 percent of the vote in West Germany.
But Mr. Kohl suggested the 43.7 percent he carried in eastern Germany amounted to a "firm electorate. Sometimes you go a little bit up or a little bit down. I'm very much satisfied with the result," Mr. Kohl said.
He also acknowledged that the real work ahead would be tackling the social and economic difficulties in eastern Germany. But as he had throughout his campaign, Mr. Kohl struck an optimistic note here.
"If the forces of the free market are allowed to function, the former [East Germany] will become prosperous in three to four years."
The FDP, or liberal party, which had run its campaign entirely on the personality of its most prominent member here, Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, jumped 1.5 percentage points at the polls, up from 9.1 percent in 1987.
Mr. Genscher, who was born in the city of Halle in the former East Germany, said the task of the future would be to unify Germany internally, raising eastern Germany to western Germany's standard of living.
In addition to the Social Democrats, the other surprising defeat in yesterday's election came for the ecological Green party.
Despite a period of increasing popularity since it first took 1.5 percent of the vote in 1980, the Greens yesterday did not even clear the 5 percent hurdle to win seats in the Bundestag, the German parliament, although a coalition including their sister party in former East Germany gained seats.
Last night, it appeared that of the 656 Bundestag seats, the CDU/CSU would take 313 places; the SPD, 239; and the liberals, 79.
The Party of Democratic Socialism -- successor to the orthodox Communist Party, the SED, that ruled East Germany for 40 years, gained 17 seats. The eastern German Federation 90 -- successor to the activists who spearheaded the movement against the former East German regime -- won 8 seats in coalition with the Greens' sister party.
The Social Democrats also took an electoral beating in Berlin, titular capital of the reunited Germany. The city's current mayor, Walter Momper, lost to Eberhard Diepgen, his CDU predecessor.
Mr. Momper's SPD had been ruling here with the Greens for the last 19 months, but their coalition broke down in acrimony two weeks ago, when police moved with force against squatters in East Berlin.
Last night, Mr. Diepgen, whose CDU took 39.6 percent of the vote against the 31.2 percent of the SPD, did not rule out the possibility of forming a grand coalition with the SPD in Berlin.